Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Good Lord Bird

The Good Lord Bird
James McBride

Published 2013

First Sentence
"I was born a colored man and don't you forget it."

Publisher's Description:

From the bestselling author of The Color of Water and Song Yet Sung comes the story of a young boy born a slave who joins John Brown’s antislavery crusade—and who must pass as a girl to survive.

Henry Shackleford is a young slave living in the Kansas Territory in 1857, when the region is a battleground between anti- and pro-slavery forces. When John Brown, the legendary abolitionist, arrives in the area, an argument between Brown and Henry’s master quickly turns violent. Henry is forced to leave town—with Brown, who believes he’s a girl.

Over the ensuing months, Henry—whom Brown nicknames Little Onion—conceals his true identity as he struggles to stay alive. Eventually Little Onion finds himself with Brown at the historic raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859—one of the great catalysts for the Civil War.

An absorbing mixture of history and imagination, and told with McBride’s meticulous eye for detail and character, The Good Lord Bird is both a rousing adventure and a moving exploration of identity and survival.

Dear Reader,

The Good Lord Bird is a comical retelling of a somber issue set in the Civil War and focusing on slavery. To be able to write something with a comedic voice without taking away the solemnity of the topic of slavery is pure genius. The cast of the novel includes some true historical characters mixed with some forged from McBride's brilliant brain. Henry Shackleford is the main character, he is a young slave that gets "rescued" from slavery by John Brown, who mistakes him for a little girl and renames him Little Onion. The section of the book I loved the most was when John Brown renames Henry, I found myself trouncing on people to read that bit of the story (before I even finished the book). You know a book is good when you think you'll BURST if you don't share something from it.

The book is Little Onions journey through the South, to the North and back down to the South where it all ends on the historic raid of Harpers Ferry. Going into this, I didn't know much on that raid or even much about John Brown *shakes head in shame*. I like that McBride changed up the tone to something more light because this might have seemed like all those other books about the Civil War and slavery. I think it's important to continually throw books like these in our faces because society still needs them to learn. I know we've come really far but we haven't come far enough and we tend to forget the history that brought us to this point. McBride has written a book that everyone should read, it brings the shock of our tragic history to view with a voice completely unique and accessible

Getting back to the characters, Little Onion meets many historical figures like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman (although they play smaller roles in the book). One of the historical characters, Frederick Douglass, was written in a less than desirable light. This confused and worried me a bit (more because I was worried what historical accuracy fanatics might think), I was hoping this wouldn't destroy the books credibility. Upon researching this, I found an interview with James McBride that touches upon his creative approach to Frederick Douglass. In the interview, he talks about how the abolitionists were different from the "rugged people out West", that they were "people who made speeches and did politics". Douglass wasn't a perfect man and he actually did have a white German girl as a mistress who lived with him and his wife. The best explanation McBride gives in this interview is this, "Listen, don't meet your heroes. If you meet your heroes, you're always going to be disappointed. Frederick Douglass was a great man, but would I want my daughter to marry him? Probably not. That doesn't mean that I don't think he's a great man..." Isn't that SO true though! We put people up on a pedestal but forget that EVERYONE is human and has faults. People do great things, and those same people are bound to do crummy things as well, that is human nature.  

The language used to bring back the past is fantastic, that blues cowboy feel that John Brown oozes. McBride writes such picturesque settings that grab you and throw you into the action. He has such great physical descriptions of the characters as well. Brown and Little Onion are the heart of the book and the bond that develops is so strong it brought me to tears. Surprisingly, looking back at the humorous tone of the book, I wouldn't have thought that it could put me in that emotional state. I suppose this is the true essence of The Good Lord Bird, that it can make you laugh and cry at the same time.

Happy Reading,


P.S. - Below I've included some pictures of the historical characters of the book. If you're anything like me, you'd be stopping through the book to look up these characters anyways... I've saved you some time! 

John Brown
Frederick Douglass
Harriet Tubman

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1 comment:

  1. Loved this review - I HAVE to read this more than ever now!!! :) I read The Color of Water in 1999, and really liked it (I think I saw McBride speak shortly thereafter?). I am SO glad to hear that his works of fiction hold up just as well. I can't wait! Also - thank you for the photos, I AM like you and appreciate you doing the work for me!!! :D


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